Olaf Millert

Olaf Millert

  • Funeral Date: 4/08/17
  • Funeral Time: 10:30 A.M.
  • Date of Birth: 9/06/24
  • Date of Death: 2/15/17
  • Funeral Location: St. John's Lutheran Church - Northfield

Olaf W. Millert (1924-2017)


Dr. Olaf Millert, professor emeritus of psychology at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, passed away on February 15, 2017 in Edina, Minnesota.


Having come to the United States after fleeing the Soviet Occupation of his native Estonia during the Second World War, Dr. Millert first joined the staff of St. Olaf in 1952.  On a leave of absence from the college, he completed his Ph.D. at Harvard University studying under Dr. Gordon Allport one of the leading figures in personality psychology.   Upon his return to the St. Olaf campus in 1960, he founded its department of psychology, and over the next two decades he pioneered a departmental expansion to include all major areas of psychology.  Passionate about connecting St Olaf students to the world beyond, he served as the Director of the Woodrow Wilson Visiting Scholar Program at the college and facilitated the visits to the campus of the Presidents of Estonia Lennart Meri in 2000 and Toomas Hendrik Ilves in 2014.  Beloved by his students, Millert maintained decades-long correspondence with scores of them following their graduation.  In a very real sense, having no children of their own, students formed the essence of the Millerts’ family.

“His ability to establish long-term connections with his students was astounding,” said long-time colleague Gerald Ericksen.  “To be invited to his home was to be treated as royalty whether you were a student, colleague, or as we observed on multiple occasions, a president of Estonia or the British Representative to the United Nations,” said Ericksen.


Born on September 6, 1924, in Tallinn, Estonia, Olaf Millert was the younger son of Albert Millert a Tallinn businessman and his wife Klaara Fischmann.  An academic his entire professional life, Olaf began his studies at the Jakob Westholm Gymnasium graduating with the class of 1943.  In late summer of 1944, with the Soviet Red Army advancing across Estonia, Olaf and his parents fled to Germany where they would remain for the next several years as refugees living in Displaced Persons camps established by the Allies after the war.  It was during this time that Millert was able to continue his studies at the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremburg.  Under the sponsorship of Lutheran World Federation, Olaf came to the United States in 1949 matriculating at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he received his Bachelors of Arts in 1950 followed by a Master’s degree from the University of South Dakota.  After obtaining his doctorate at Harvard University Millert became a Fulbright scholar at the University of Tempere, Finland, and also later served as a visiting professor at the University of Strasburg under a National Science Foundation grant.  He  also participated in the Voice of America Freedom Minutes Series for the bicentennial of the United States Constitution.


Olaf Millert was preceded in death by his parents and brother Arved as well as by his wife of 46 years, Juta Rae Millert, a skilled linguist who worked in the Language and Literature Department at St. Olaf.  The annual Juta and Olaf Millert lecture series and the Gordon Allport award given in honor of Millert’s mentor at Harvard reflects their deep dedication to and support of St. Olaf College.  He is survived by his brother’s granddaughter Virge Millert and her daughter Mia as well as by scores of those who held him dear.


A service is planned for 10:30A.M., Saturday, April 8th at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Northfield.  Visitation will be one hour prior to the service. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be directed to the Olaf and Juta Millert Endowment at St. Olaf College, 1520 St. Olaf Avenue, Northfield, MN  55057, or the donor’s choice.


Arrangements are with the Benson & Langehough Funeral Home.






  1. Noel Ponder

    Olaf was a dear man and will be greatly missed by all of us at the St. Olaf Bookstore.

  2. Lauri Norri

    Olafs smiles and stories will be missed. Olafs and Juttas international house will stay in memory for a Long Long time. Olafs passing is a loss for both Minnesota and Estonia.

  3. John Gorder '67

    Olaf was a steady and always enthusiastic part of the St. Olaf teaching community. He is remembered with affection.

  4. Howard White

    I will always treasure my memories of our Monday morning sessions in which I learned so much about Olaf’s personal history of coming to the United States, completing his education, and embarking on his academic career.

  5. Karen and Warren Goodroad

    We were pleased to meet Olaf and become friends with him through our son, Chad ’09. We enjoyed his many stories,his kind nature and his intellectual curiosity.

  6. My dear mentor and adopted father Olaf arranged me to study at St.Olaf 1966-67. It is difficult to continue writing, because I knew him 40 years. He was so helpful and warm toward Finnish war-orphan boy during my stay at St.Olaf. He did not forget me. With his support I was able to continue my studies in psychology and became professor of psychology in Finland. Thank you, Olaf and Juta, too!

  7. Joel Jaeger

    I met Olaf in 2011 as a student at St. Olaf, what a wonderful, energetic and kind man!

  8. Olaf was the one that inspired my love of the history of psychology, and stories of studying under Allport. I try to channel some of his enthusiasm and mischievous gleam he would get in his eye when talking about instrumental figures in psychology with my own students. I saw him 15 years ago or so and told him how much he influenced me in my choice of career. I hope he realized how much his influence has lived on in HIS students. I will never forget his ramrod straight posture and the slight hint of a Prussian dueling scar! A unique and wonderful figure!

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